By JIM RICKARDS for
The Daily Reckoning
It’s extremely difficult to find the truth about the war in Ukraine. The first reason for this is because… it’s a war. Wars are always difficult to gauge in real-time. The phrase “fog of war” was invented to convey the uncertainty and imprecision about the progress of any particular war.
Still, there’s another reason the war in Ukraine is confusing for so many. It’s because the Ukrainian propaganda effort is one of the most astonishingly effective concoctions of lies ever seen.
From the “Ghost of Kyiv” fighter ace to the “Heroes of Snake Island” to wildly exaggerated claims of Russian casualties to the suppression of any news that reflects badly on Ukraine, the Ukrainian propaganda machine has been firing on all cylinders.
This might be expected given that President Zelenskyy is a former actor and comedian. He’s used to the media stage and making up scenes for the audience. Zelenskyy is backed up by a small army of media advisers and amplified by sympathizers including President Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and outlets like The New York Times.
Courage Under (Phony) Fire
The latest propaganda stunt was Joe Biden’s trip to Kyiv a few days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. Biden made a canned speech, authorized another $500 million in weapons and hopped back onto a train to Poland.
The propaganda pièce de résistance was when Biden and Zelenskyy walked into an open courtyard and the Kyiv air raid sirens began blaring. The Russians had been advised in advance that Biden would be there, and they agreed not to stage any raids during Biden’s visit.
In fact, there had been no raids for some time. No one saw any planes, drones or missiles. The sirens were just a stage effect intended to create a false sense of danger to be picked up as a soundtrack by global media. Ukraine is losing the war badly but you can’t blame Westerners for believing otherwise. They’re all victims of the Zelenskyy-Ukraine propaganda machine.
What about the sanctions? How are they working out? U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia because of Ukraine have been worse than a complete failure. They have failed to change Russia’s behavior, have failed to hurt Russia’s economy in a material way and have boomeranged to hurt the U.S., Europe and many Western financial institutions.
I wrote about this last year in March and April not long after the war began. My comments were greeted with skepticism (at best) and extreme criticism (at worse). No matter. I was right then and the evidence since has been overwhelming.
The Russian economy was only down about 3% in 2022 (earlier estimates expected it to fall around 20% or more), and the Russian economy is expected to show modest growth this year versus likely recessions in the U.S. and Europe. Russia and China are far along in developing an interoperative payments and settlement system for international transactions that will replace the SWIFT system that Russia was ejected from.
Actually damaging Russian institutions is extremely difficult because Russia has spent years preparing for just such a financial attack from the United States. Its banks are robust with good liquidity and access to interbank facilities, even without the benefit of SWIFT or Western correspondents.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to destroy the Ukrainian army with missiles from North Korea, drones from Iran and its own massive industrial capacity.
The Only Card the U.S. Can Play
So Ukraine is losing on the battlefield and the U.S.-led sanctions regime against Russia has failed. The only U.S. response is to escalate the conflict.
The escalation of U.S. weaponry provided to Ukraine is stunning. We started with Stinger surface-to-air missiles to shoot down Russian aircraft, and Javelin missiles, which are potent anti-tank weapons (although the British NLAW system being used in Ukraine is apparently better).
Next, we provided the HIMARS, which is a long-range heavy artillery piece with precision-guided shells. Ukraine has used it to good effect, although it seems the Russians have developed means to counter it. Contrary to what the propaganda machine says, the Russians aren’t idiots. In fact, the very head of Ukraine’s military has said that “all military science is located in Russia.”
Anyway, since the delivery of HIMARS, the U.S., the U.K. and Germany have pledged to provide top-of-the-line tanks including the U.S. Abrams tank, the U.K. Challenger 2 and the German Leopard 2. Incidentally, there are unconfirmed reports that some Leopards are now appearing on the battlefield.
Then, without skipping a beat, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy demanded F-16 fighter jets. Biden said no, but he also said no to tanks at first. It’s likely just a matter of time before he approves the F-16s. All of this has been backed up with billions of dollars of intelligence, surveillance and communications systems designed to spot Russian targets and direct the application of U.S. weapons.
That’s to say nothing about the actual presence of NATO forces on the ground in Ukraine. Some sources indicate that as many as 20,000 Polish troops are on the front lines dressed in Ukrainian uniforms, making them foreign mercenaries. U.S. and U.K. forces are also on the ground there not in uniform, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Of course, this is no secret to the Russians. They recently warned us to withdraw all NATO personnel and equipment from Ukraine. If we don’t, the Russians renewed the warning that they could become legitimate targets.
Still, none of this assistance has been particularly effective. Ukraine is losing the war badly as Russia slowly and methodically wears down Ukrainian forces along a broad front. Russia nearly has the strategically important city of Bakhmut encircled and will probably have it completely cut off before long, trapping 20,000–30,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
The loss of Bakhmut will be a significant defeat for Ukraine, as it will significantly weaken their defense line in the Donbas. They really only have one defense line to fall back to, and it’s notably weaker than the line they’re currently fighting to hold.
If Russia eventually manages to break through that last line, there’s very little between that line and the Dnieper River to stop them.
None of this is an indictment of the Ukrainian military, by the way. They’ve fought hard and bravely, and continue to do so. It’s just that they’re facing a superior force that significantly outnumbers them in tanks, aircraft, artillery and, importantly, ammunition. They’re simply outgunned.
Where’s the Cavalry?
Meanwhile, many of the weapons pledged (including the tanks) have not actually arrived and may not be ready for six months or more. Ukraine could sure use them now! The F-16s in particular are a pipe dream because Ukrainian pilots don’t know how to fly them, and training can take almost a year. It’s possible that NATO pilots could secretly pilot them, but just think of the Russian propaganda victory if they shoot down and capture NATO pilots who aren’t supposed to be flying over Ukraine.
Still, apart from their effectiveness, another question arises. Can the U.S., the U.K. and Germany actually afford to provide these weapons without damaging their own readiness in the event of wars elsewhere?
The fact is Western arsenals have been badly depleted because of the weapons and ammunition provided to Ukraine. The European arsenals were not large to begin with, but even the U.S. supplies dropped into the danger zone. The situation is worse than that because the shortages cannot be made up quickly.
The U.S. has shut down many ammunition factories since the Cold War ended. These can be restarted but full wartime mobilization takes years, not weeks. World War II is a good example. By 1943, the U.S. was producing wartime aircraft at a rate of almost 100,000 planes per year. But in 1941, that number was only 18,000. The Ford Motor Co. basically stopped automobile production and converted its huge River Rouge factory to aircraft production for the duration.
That fivefold increase in fighters and bombers took two years to achieve. It was not done in months. It’s fair to ask if this war is worth it in broad terms. It’s even more pointed to ask if it’s worth jeopardizing U.S. national security by running down vital inventories of weapons to prop up a corrupt oligarchy in Eastern Europe. The American people may discover the hard way that the answer to both questions is no.
Jim Rickards invites comments at email@example.com